I hope Garmin’s new subscriptions-based maps service isn't the start of a trend

Creating routes using Garmin Connect
(Image credit: Luke Edwards)

Amid all the excitement around the launch of the Garmin Forerunner 965 and 265, two new additions to the stable of the best Garmin Watches, another key feature from Garmin was rolled out this week. Released on Tuesday 28 February, Outdoor Maps+ is a new service from Garmin available for some of Garmin’s premium watches in the US only – for a price.

The feature offers a series of “photorealistic maps” and advanced up-to-date topographical maps of all 50 states, featuring information not normally included in Garmin’s current maps set-up. Details pulled from the US government’s National Hydrography Dataset, such as inland lake, stream, and wetland maps, are perfect for those looking to find the best fishing spots. 

Adventurers will be able to see landowner information, which is essential if you’re doing some serious hiking and want to avoid accidentally trespassing. Boundaries to show legal hunting grounds, more public land information, the ability to mark waypoints for your hikes and runs, and more round out the glut of new features. 

The Garmin Enduro 2, Epix (Gen 2), Garmin Fēnix 7 series, the Garmin MARQ (Gen 2) such as the Garmin MARQ Athlete, Quatix 7, and Tactix 7 all get access to these new features (a.k.a all Garmin’s most expensive watches) and the subscription is set at $49.99. 

Casual Garmin users might go bug-eyed at the prospect of paying an additional fee for features locked behind a paywall. At first glance, it smacks of Fitbit Premium and other subscription services, which shutter certain features like detailed sleep tracking and Daily Readiness scores behind a monthly spend. But don’t worry: this isn’t quite the same thing, and Garmin’s unlikely to be coming for the lion’s share of your data. Yet. 

Sole of trail running shoe

(Image credit: kovop58 / Shutterstock)

The mapping features are advanced enough to be needed only for fishing, hunting, ultrarunning, and other serious outdoor pursuits. This isn’t Garmin’s only sports-specific paid-for subscription feature; those who only use Garmin for general fitness might be surprised to learn that Garmin Golf has a $9.99 / £12.95 / AU$14.99 subscription tier. Garmin’s TacX virtual cycling content library, Vault for Dash Cams, and lots more specialist services also offer subscription services paid monthly and annually. 

Because of the highly specialist nature and live service requirements of the Outdoor Maps+ feature, it’s unlikely this is a sign that Garmin’s planning to lock you out of any of the data you currently use. The fact that Garmin Connect is completely free to Garmin watch owners is a big selling point of the entire Garmin watch range - you only need to check out these 5 Garmin Connect features to see how useful the app really is. 

However, there’s no denying live service makes money. Fitbit Premium was a move away from the company relying on selling devices to make money (as we said in our Fitbit obituary article), and towards using the trackers as a vehicle to keep people paying for a subscription. You can also look at the Battle Pass and Season Pass models that have been adopted by the video game industry’s biggest money-makers to see how Garmin might be tempted to adopt this model. 

I really, really hope they don’t. As is, Garmin’s free Connect service makes its watches some of the best-value devices on the market. A move towards a larger subscription service would cheapen and devalue the brand, and possibly drive a huge portion of its user base away into the waiting arms of Apple

Matt Evans
Fitness, Wellness, and Wearables Editor

Matt is TechRadar's expert on all things fitness, wellness and wearable tech. A former staffer at Men's Health, he holds a Master's Degree in journalism from Cardiff and has written for brands like Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything fitness tech, exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing.

Matt's a keen runner, ex-kickboxer, not averse to the odd yoga flow, and insists everyone should stretch every morning. When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.